My father, András, was a barber for most of his life. Thinking back it all seems so deliciously vintage now, if you understand my meaning. He wore a crisp white jacket and there was a red and white striped post out the front of his barber shop, Budapest Hairdresser. Leather and chrome swivel chairs took pride of place on the chequerboard black and white linoleum tiles, and mirrors lined the walls. On the bench tops, thin black combs sat in tall glass canisters filled with a mild solution of disinfectant. I can still remember the smell. Rolls of delicate white paper towelling sat alongside jewel-shaped plastic spritz bottles filled with water, together with soft-bristled wooden-handled brushes, electric clippers, brown rubber squeeze gadgets containing talcum powder, and rows of scissors and cut-throat razors which were tucked neatly into a cloth pouch. Working from home and doing what she could to help, my mother sewed stylish capes from black and white patterned fabric especially for the shop.
In the 1960s, my older sister, Judy, worked alongside my father, as his apprentice, and actually she was the first female barber in Canberra. It was quite an achievement for the time and dad was ever so proud. I can remember that the story made it into a couple of the local newspapers!
As a very young man, dad had trained as an apprentice in Austria, working with a kindly older mester (master). He often told me stories about how he'd made a living riding a rickety bicycle from Budaörs in Pest, to and from farms in the nearby countryside; bartering haircuts for chickens, eggs, milk, vegetables and even handmade shoes.
Having migrated to Australia following the Hungarian uprising, dad quickly found work, initially picking grapes in Mildura and then he was employed in a barbershop called Lucio’s in East Row, Canberra City. It was1957, when Canberra was truly a mere slip of a town, despite being the nation’s capital. Later, having established a dozen thriving grape vines (and numerous fruit trees, ducks and chickens) in our back garden, dad bartered ute-loads of Isabella grapes with his friends, for vegetables and, yes, the occasional flagon of wine!
Now I’ve veered off the track here, because the original inspiration for this snippet (no pun intended) was that I had promised to barter some home-grown cauliflower with a colleague who had shared with me perfect black figs from his garden. To my disappointment, the cauliflower seedlings I planted some months ago produced only masses of foliage… until recently, that is.
Peeking through the green leaves are tightly bunched heads of pure white snowballs. How delightful! I had so lovingly prepared the beds, digging in plenty of well-rotted compost and worms; and have carefully pulled the larger leaves over to cover the cauliflower heads, securing them with bands cut from old rubber gloves. This helps to keep the florets shielded from the elements, and clean and white. The plants are coming along, so I should be able to honour my barter and reap the benefits in my kitchen as well. I love to barter, don't you?
Home grown cauliflower is sometimes less than beautiful in appearance when compared to store bought, but the delicate taste is something else. It’s lovely in soups and curries, salads, tempura and puree. We enjoy the low fat “No-tatoes” way of cooking, based on steamed, pureed cauliflower mixed with soft cream cheese. Cauliflower cheese also makes a regular appearance on the dinner table at The Blue House, and I prefer this gluten free, less cheesy, lower fat version. My dear friend, Diana, gave me the recipe a long time ago.
GLUTEN FREE CAULIFLOWER CHEESE
1 x small cauliflower, cut into florets
1 heaped tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maize cornflour
1 cup low fat milk
½ cup grated low fat cheese, perhaps more
1/3 cup rice crumbs
Place the cauliflower florets into a shallow microwave and oven safe dish (ceramic or glass is ideal). Sprinkle the cauliflower with one or two tablespoons of water, cover the dish with cling wrap and microwave the cauliflower for 5-7 minutes until it is just tender.
Meanwhile, make a white sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the cornflour and stir briefly over low heat, then stir in the milk with a whisk, making sure you break any clumps. Cook over gentle heat until the sauce thickens.
Add the juices from the steamed cauliflower to the saucepan, stir through and then pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and rice crumbs, then place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the cheese and crumb topping is nicely browned. Serves 4-6.
My father, the gentleman barber... circa 1930s with the Mester...
1960s, Canberra, Australia...
1980s, Malua Bay...
Fresh from the archives. This was another of the very first recipes to appear on Good Things. It's such a cracker of recipe, and features regularly on the menu at The Blue House. I do hope you won't mind me sharing it again now. I'd like to dedicate this post to my father, the gentleman barber who liked to be known as André the Great xox
Now tell me, dear readers, do you enjoy bartering? Who do you barter with and what goods do you exchange? And have you ever had a hair cut in an old fashioned barber shop?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.